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‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

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‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by Ivan on Fri Sep 21, 2012 9:05 pm

For most of World War Two, the Channel Islands were occupied by the Germans. On 15 June 1940, the British government decided that they were of no strategic importance and would not be defended. On 28 June, the Germans sent a squadron of bombers over the islands and bombed the harbours of Guernsey and Jersey. A reconnaissance pilot landed in Guernsey on 30 June and the island officially surrendered to him; Jersey surrendered on 1 July. Alderney, where only a handful of islanders remained, was occupied on 2 July and a small detachment travelled from Guernsey to Sark, which officially surrendered on 4 July.

The Channel Islands served no purpose to the Germans other than the propaganda value of having occupied some British territory. The occupation has been quite well documented since the war, but the story of the evacuation has been somewhat overlooked. Gillian Mawson has now changed all that, at least with respect to Guernsey.

Around 17,000 Guernsey residents left their homes, and all of their possessions, behind and fled to mainland Britain just a few days before the Germans arrived on the island. These included 5,000 schoolchildren with their teachers and 500 mothers who accompanied them as 'helpers'. They sailed in cattle boats, mail boats and even boats that were in a filthy state after having just rescued British soldiers from Dunkirk.

The evacuees went first to Weymouth, where they were registered, fed and health checked, but the south coast of England was being bombed at that time. Plenty of accommodation (which had previously been earmarked for Belgian refugees who hadn’t arrived) was available in the north, so most of the evacuees were quickly transported to industrial towns in Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire, an environment that was so very different from that of their rural island. Evacuees were quite shocked by the smoke and smog of these factory towns, with one saying: "We arrived in Oldham and saw strange sights, smoking chimneys, tripe in butchers' shop windows, and women wrapped in shawls looking as if they had never seen the sun. But they were so very friendly towards us."

Thousands of Guernsey children were taken into the homes of local people. Thousands of Guernsey men and women joined the British Forces or worked in the war industries making ammunition, aircraft and army uniforms, while others built runways for the Air Force. At one point at least three Guernsey men were members of the Manchester Fire Brigade. Many evacuees lost their lives as a result of their part in the war effort.

Since May 2008, Gillian Mawson has been working on this subject, interviewing 200 of the evacuees who fled from Guernsey, and she has had access to hundreds of unpublished diaries, photographs and personal documents. She also trawled 30 archives in England to find traces of the presence of the evacuees during the war. Her book contains over 100 evacuation images, most of which have never been published before.

Evacuated mothers had the problem of trying to find their younger children who had been evacuated with the schools, and they suffered severe financial hardship, as most arrived in England with no money or possessions. The mothers who Gillian interviewed had received gifts of clothing, crockery and furniture from their English neighbours. The evacuees even received assistance from Canada and the USA; for example, one Guernsey school set up in Cheshire was 'sponsored' by wealthy Americans such as Eleanor Roosevelt and a number of Hollywood and British actors.

Gillian’s book also mentions Guernsey people who escaped from the island during the Nazi occupation, including John Savident, who played Fred Elliot in 'Coronation Street' for many years. Several child evacuees also played for English football teams after leaving school at 14, including Bill Spurdle who played for Oldham and Manchester City. The final part of the book mentions the commemoration events that have taken place since the war, including the plaques that were unveiled in Guernsey and England in 2010.

The Channel Islands were liberated on 9 May 1945, but not all of the evacuees returned to Guernsey. Some had become engaged or married to local people, or had secured employment or gone into further education. Others realised that Guernsey would have been badly damaged by the Germans and that the prospects for their families would be better in England. Some returned to Guernsey only to find that their homes had been destroyed, and so they returned to England once more.

Many Guernsey children were sad to leave the English families that had cared for them for five years, and some discovered that they could not bond with their real parents back in Guernsey due to the long separation. In other words, permanent damage was done to thousands of Guernsey families as a result of the evacuation.

‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War’ will be published by History Press on 1 November 2012. Anyone wishing to pre-order the book can do so here:-
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guernsey-Evacuees-Gillian-Mawson/dp/0752470191/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348257761&sr=8-1

As this has been written before publication, it’s a preview rather than a review. I’ve had the privilege of reading quite a few short excerpts from the book. Some of them have brought me close to tears, especially when reading about the trauma for both parents and children caused by the sudden separation, along with heartbreaking stories about their pets. Clearly this is a well-researched book by an author who has shown much sensitivity to her subject and a determination to fill a gap in our knowledge of World War Two. It is a ‘must read’ for anyone who has an interest in that period or in the less frequently reported aspects of human suffering that warfare can produce.

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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by gillianmawson on Thu Oct 04, 2012 12:10 pm

Ivan I am delighted by the preview of my book, thank you. The research for this book has been gruelling but so very rewarding. Four years ago when I discovered that thousands of Guernsey evacuees had come to England in 1940, my first thought was 'But we were sending children AWAY from industrial areas, why were these evacuees sent INTO towns?'
I eventually found the answer but came across so many more unanswered questions that even now, after 4 years of interviews and archive searching, I still have much to do. During this time I have grown close to many of the evacuees - we have formed a community group, organised reunions, talks for school children, and public storytelling events. Sadly some of my interviewees have passed away during the past few years and will not see the finished book.
This project has practically changed my life, and I imagine that it will continue for quite some time! I do hope that people both in Guernsey and the rest of the world enjoy the book, but I partcularly hope that the evacuees I have interviewed feel that I have accurately reflected their wartime experiences in England. Gillian Mawson
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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by oftenwrong on Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:14 pm

Clearly an awesome quantity of research went into that book, which should apart from anything else make some other people grateful for merely having survived the Second World War and the subsequent unrest which seems to have followed almost without cease.
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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by Margaret Cornick on Fri Oct 05, 2012 8:36 pm

Hi Gillian, Since I live in Canada can I still order your book from the link on your site to Amazon, or is that just for UK residents?  I am looking forward to reading the fruits of all your labour, you have been so very dedicated to this work, wishing you every success with book sales.
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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by gillianmawson on Sat Oct 06, 2012 11:30 am

Good morning, I would like to thank both 'oftenwrong' and Margaret (hello again Margaret) for their kind comments above. For those in the USA and Canada, my book can also be ordered from amazon.com at this link
http://www.amazon.com/Guernsey-Evacuees-Gillian-Mawson/dp/0752470191/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1349519315&sr=1-1&keywords=guernsey+evacuees
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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by gillianmawson on Sun Oct 21, 2012 9:24 am

Here is a book trailer which was made for me by a very good friend, mistidebonno (there is sound):-


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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by oftenwrong on Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:20 pm

Unsurprisingly, Islands resonate strongly with inhabitants of our British Isles. Whenever an Estate Agent advertises an island for sale, half the nation salivate in anticipation of the week's lottery result. Poole Harbour is the world's second largest natural harbour, with a collection of small islands inhabited by wealthy owners. The largest one Brownsea Island hosted the first Boy Scout Camp over a hundred years ago, and is now owned by the National Trust.

At the outbreak of WW2 the owner was Mary Bonham-Christie, who had prohibited access to the public. Popular rumour spread the calumny that she comminicated with the Nazis through a wireless aeriel in the chimney of Brownsea Castle.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownsea_Island
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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by Ivan on Sat Nov 24, 2012 1:25 pm

“War isn’t just about soldiers and tanks.”

Those were the words of Jason Pickering, who told author Gillian Mawson of his family’s experiences of being evacuated from Guernsey in June 1940. They encapsulate the all-embracing but often forgotten aspect of warfare, that it causes so much human suffering far beyond whatever happens on the battlefields. ‘Guernsey Evacuees’ is a clearly written, well-paced and meticulously researched account of a part of that suffering; researcher Donald Mounts describes it as “a riveting story of war and separation”.

Gillian has supported well-researched oral testimony with many photographs and documents from the five years of this evacuation. The book is a mine of interesting detail, such as the fact that 300 people were evacuated on a cargo boat licensed to carry only 12, a clear indication of the desperation and urgency of the event. Many evacuees buried valuables in their gardens, houses were left abandoned with the keys still in the doors, and thousands went to the bank to try to draw out their money.

There was a desperate rush to obtain suitcases, but the few shops which sold them soon ran out of stock. As a result, many evacuees left Guernsey with just a few possessions crammed into a pillowcase or a tomato basket. As Jason Pickering said: “All you can take is what you can carry….You will be taken to a country you don’t know, you will live with people you don’t know, and you do not know when you will see your friends and relatives and home again.”

During Raymond Carre’s first evening in Manchester, an air raid took place and he found himself in a shelter “with over a hundred people, young and old, all crowded into that shelter and all talking a broad Lancashire dialect that we could not understand.” Even words had different meanings: if you “looked starved” in Stockport, it meant you “looked cold”. The only form of communication with relatives still in Guernsey was through British Red Cross letters; replies could take months and were censored by the Germans.

People visited evacuee reception centres to choose a Guernsey schoolchild to take home. Some were frightened of taking on growing boys in case they “eat us out of house and home, I just can’t afford it.” However, in country areas, farmers viewed growing boys as ideal for carrying out heavy farm work. Some children were treated badly and even abused. One testimony describes a boy being made to eat his meals off a newspaper on the floor. Evacuation almost certainly wouldn’t happen today, as there is greater awareness of, and much more vigilance about, child abuse. Most parents would not consider sending their children away to live with strangers (apart from those who send them to boarding schools!).

Many Guernsey child evacuees attended local schools, but a number of evacuated Guernsey headteachers were allowed to re-establish their schools and colleges in England. In 1944, about 20 of these were operating, containing over 1,000 children.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 islanders joined the British forces, even though it was not compulsory for them to do so. Some joined the Home Guard. Over 200 Guernsey men died in action.

Some evacuees encountered problems when they attempted to rent flats or houses. They were advised that, unless their husbands were fighting in the forces, they could not rent property. To overcome this problem, mothers whose husbands were in the forces teamed up with mothers whose husbands were trapped in occupied Guernsey. The strain of sharing accommodation sometimes led to friction, and anyone receiving public assistance was not supposed to take up employment.

This fascinating and thoroughly recommended book is published by The History Press at £14.99, ISBN 978-0-7524-7019-1. I’ll leave the last word to Neil Holmes, author of ‘Liverpool Blitzed: Seventy Years On’: “This is not just an untold evacuation story, but a very unusual one, as the people were moved from a rural island to industrial towns and cities that in many cases became targets for the Luftwaffe’s air raids.”

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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by oftenwrong on Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:23 pm

These stories of the occupation by Germany of British Soil on the Channel Islands do of course have an obverse side. The British authorities rounded up "aliens" at the start of both World Wars and interned them on the Isle of Man.

http://www.gov.im/mnh/heritage/library/bibliographies/internment.xml
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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by Ivan on Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:56 pm

Reviews by five of the many people who have purchased and read this book:-

“I originally bought this for my dad, who was one of the Guernsey evacuees, but my aunty bought one too, so I had the book and decided to read it myself. I had often heard stories from my dad about the evacuation, but this was a fantastic and insightful read, giving lots of different perspectives from all ages of people involved. I also found out some things that I didn't know and couldn't wait to "grill" my family.
I would recommend this book, to anyone who is interested in, not only the history of the war and evacuees, but anyone who likes to read about people's experiences.”
(Janet Wellens)


“Gillian Mawson makes history come alive in her book Guernsey Evacuees. All the research, all the detail is there, but she also gives us a real taste of the lived experience of the evacuees. This is no dry bones academic book but one that makes the reader feel like they are living through the terror of sudden evacuation, the struggle to survive in an alien country and the long awaited return home.

From the first page - when Valerie Pales describes the German planes overhead as she and her mother are picking potatoes - to Jason Pickering's words on the last page ("Take this sports bag, and imagine that all you can take is what you can carry in this. Imagine that is all you have"), I was totally engaged. The children's letters, the teachers' diaries, job references and excerpts from the Channel Islands Society Newsletters all added up to an absolutely compelling story.

This is also the story of the many people who opened their homes and hearts to the evacuees. I was particularly moved to learn about John W. Fletcher, an ordinary Lancashire man, who took the evacuees to his heart. He raised funds to make sure that hundreds of evacuees had Christmas presents and was fondly known as 'Uncle Fletcher' by the children.

Gillian Mawson has achieved something amazing in this book. She has respectfully and sensitively given recognition to 17,000 forgotten evacuees. In the process, she has also validated their experience as displaced people in mainland England and upon their return home.

I couldn't put this book down when it first arrived in the post and I look forward to reading it more slowly, and savouring it. If you love living history, the stories of people’s lives, you will love ‘Guernsey Evacuees’.”
(M. Brennan)


“Like many others, I had heard so much about this book through the author's Twitter feed and hoped that it would live up to expectations. I have to say that it was everything I hoped it would be and more.

The author clearly lays out the experience that the islanders went through, starting with the rushed evacuation before moving on to their arrival in the mainland, their travel to the North of England (and in some cases Scotland or North Wales) and then their attempts to settle and integrate into communities. The struggle of each family or school group to find a place to stay and keep together is heart wrenching, but your spirits are lifted by the stories of the locals who came to the islanders’ aid, raising money and donating items of furniture and clothing. The book also describes how strangers helped the evacuees, schools were moved almost en masse and reformed on the mainland, and how the evacuees eventually returned to their island, along with their struggle to cope with the impact of five years away from their friends, family and home.

Throughout the whole book the author makes extensive use of personal accounts, diaries, photographs, letters, telegrams and documents from the period. Nor does she romanticise the events, telling even of the times when the evacuation experience did not work out well, and how the experience had a negative impact on the family life of many of the islanders, even long after they had returned.

The Guernsey evacuees had lived on a rural island, where trains were unknown and towns relatively small. They were evacuated for the most part to industrial towns and cities with terraced houses, smog, factories and accents and customs that were almost foreign. That they not only survived the experience, but thrived and played an important role in the British war effort, is a testament to the bravery and dedication of the people of those islands. The author does them justice by telling their story fairly, accurately and in such a way as to grab your interest from cover to cover. Anyone with a love for history should get this book.”
(Mr. N. A. Holmes)


“I bought this as a Christmas present for my mum who was evacuated from Guernsey to Huddersfield during WWII. She found the book thoroughly enjoyable and said how well researched it was. Gillian also managed to trace a friend of my mum's who she sadly lost touch with once the war was over when she returned to Guernsey. A great read, thank you.” (Sierra Stone)


“I purchased this book while over in Guernsey, I had been waiting for it to be released for quite a while and I was glad that it surpassed all my expectations. Many books have been written about the occupation of Guernsey, but little had been written about the evacuees. The work put in by the author is exceptional and gives a true version of experiences from many people who went through this dramatic period in their lives as young children. You cannot feel untouched by their stories, and can only imagine how difficult times must have been for both parents and children. The wonderful photos add to the experience of this previously untold story.

Gone but not forgotten, is a much used phrase relating to wartime stories, Gillian has made sure that these will not be the forgotten evacuees.”
(Steve B)

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Re: ‘Guernsey Evacuees - The Forgotten Evacuees Of The Second World War' by Gillian Mawson

Post by gillianmawson on Mon Jan 07, 2013 5:51 pm

I am so very grateful for the reviews above. When I was writing the book I had no idea whether it would sell, or what people would think of it. I am so glad I have spent the last four years interviewing evacuees, and I continue to do so. Thank you for all your comments on this forum, and I will be glad to read more. Gill Mawson
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